Galatians derives its title (pros Galatas) from the region in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) where the churches addressed were located. It is the only one of Paul’s epistles specifically addressed to churches in more than one city (1:2; cf. 3:1; 1 Cor. 16:1).
The course of Paul’s life took a sudden and startling turn when, on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem to persecute Christians, he was confronted by the risen, glorified Christ. That dramatic encounter turned Paul from Christianity’s chief persecutor to its greatest missionary. His 3 missionary journeys and trip to Rome turned Christianity from a faith that included only a small group of Palestinian Jewish believers into an Empire-wide phenomenon. Galatians is one of 13 inspired letters he addressed to Gentile congregations or his fellow workers.
Galatians provides valuable historical information about Paul’s background (chaps. 1, 2), including his 3-year stay in Nabatean Arabia (1:17, 18), which Acts does not mention; his 15-day visit with Peter after his stay in Arabia (1:18, 19); his trip to the Jerusalem Council (2:1–10); and his confrontation of Peter (2:11–21).
The central theme of Galatians (like that of Romans) is justification by faith. Paul defends that doctrine (which is the heart of the gospel) both in its theological (chaps. 3, 4) and practical (chaps. 5, 6) ramifications. He also defends his position as an apostle (chaps. 1, 2) since, as in Corinth, false teachers had attempted to gain a hearing for their heretical teaching by undermining Paul’s credibility.
The main theological themes of Galatians are strikingly similar to those of Romans, e.g., the inability of the law to justify (2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20); the believer’s deadness to the law (2:19; cf. Rom. 7:4); the believer’s crucifixion with Christ (2:20; cf. Rom. 6:6); Abraham’s justification by faith (3:6; cf. Rom. 4:3); that believers are Abraham’s spiritual children (3:7; cf. Rom. 4:10, 11) and therefore blessed (3:9; cf. Rom. 4:23, 24); that the law brings not salvation but God’s wrath (3:10; cf. Rom. 4:15); that the just shall live by faith (3:11; cf. Rom. 1:17); the universality of sin (3:22; cf. Rom. 11:32); that believers are spiritually baptized into Christ (3:27; cf. Rom. 6:3); believers’ adoption as God’s spiritual children (4:5–7; cf. Rom. 8:14–17); that love fulfills the law (5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8–10); the importance of walking in the Spirit (5:16; cf. Rom. 8:4); the warfare of the flesh against the Spirit (5:17; cf. Rom. 7:23, 25); and the importance of believers bearing one anothers’ burdens (6:2; cf. Rom. 15:1).